UPDATE (11.18.2020): Post revised with a new option.
Welcome back to my ongoing series on the New York Transportation Improvement Plan (NYTIP)! In my last post, I discussed the Eastern Parkway trunk line served by the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines in Brooklyn. In this post, I will discuss the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines in Manhattan and The Bronx, and explain why de-interlining is extremely challenging.
If you’ve read all the posts in this series so far, you’ve seen that the key to enhancing the NYC Subway (point one in my three-point plan) is eliminating merging conflicts – mostly through de-interlining. In some cases, de-interlining is trivial since it does not require capital investment; in other cases, it only works with capital investment.
With the IRT lines in The Bronx, it’s a bit of both – and all options have their share of difficulties. Let’s explore.
Note: Click any image to enlarge.
[Fig. 1] Snippet of the NYC Subway Map showing the subway lines in The Bronx.
The circled areas in the map above are the “trouble spots” of the Bronx IRT system – and the keys to determining the efficacy of any de-interlining option. Let’s take a closer look.
[Fig. 2] Track map of the 2, 3, 4, and 5 lines with emphasis on the South Bronx and Harlem. Source: vanshnookenraggen.
The first trouble spot is the at-grade junction north of 135th Street station on the 2 and 3 lines, which limits capacity on both. The second trouble spot is the 149th Street junction where the 2 and 5 trains meet; as the track map shows, 5 trains must negotiate a wicked S-curve between 138th Street and 149th Street – Grand Concourse. The sharpness of the curve restricts the 5 train’s speed, which induces delays.
[Fig. 3] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing the East 180th Street station and points of conflict between 2 and 5 trains.
The last trouble spot is East 180th Street. During rush hours, express 5 trains from the Dyre Avenue branch must cross over the local tracks to reach the center express track at East 180th Street. The rush-hour 5 train split between Nereid Avenue and Dyre Avenue also contributes to delays and, for Dyre Avenue branch riders, infrequent rush hour service.
There are several possible ways to resolve these issues.
Option 1a: Full de-interlining using existing tracks
[Fig. 4] Overview of option 1a via Brand New Subway.
Option 1a fully de-interlines the Bronx IRT. Under Option 1a, the 3 replaces the 5 to Dyre Avenue and runs local in The Bronx. The 2 runs express in the peak direction from East 180th Street to 3rd Avenue – 149th Street during rush hours. As an optional enhancement, peak-direction 2 express service can run for an extended period on weekdays similar to the peak-direction 6 and 7 express services. The 5 runs via Jerome Avenue and terminates at Burnside Avenue by way of a pair of new switches:
[Fig. 5] Snippet of vanshnookenraggen’s track map showing Burnside Avenue station. Modifications by me. New switches between the southbound local and center track north of Burnside Avenue allow trains to terminate with minimal conflict.
(In lieu of the new switches, 5 trains could terminate at Burnside Avenue and then make the long relay using existing switches north of Kingsbridge Road station.)
With the 4 and 5 running together to Burnside Avenue, an optional service enhancement is peak-direction 4 express service between Burnside Avenue and 125th Street. The MTA previously ran a pilot program where select 4 trains ran express from Bedford Park Blvd to 125th Street, with intermediate stops at Burnside Avenue and 149th Street – Grand Concourse. One issue with the pilot was less service at local stops – a problem that the 5 via Jerome Avenue resolves.
Owing to relatively high ridership at stations north of Burnside Avenue, it may be better for 5 trains to continue a bit further north to Fordham Road. Given that Fordham Road station has side platforms and no nearby switches, such a change requires the following:
Potential capital investment: Convert Fordham Road station to an express stop with island platforms, and construct new switches north of the station.
[Fig. 6] Overview of the Fordham Road conversion.
I envision the new Fordham Road station raised about 3 feet to increase the clearance below, allowing most trucks to pass and significantly reducing the likelihood of over-height vehicle crashes. This would require regrading the track approaches on either side of the station. If Fordham Road is converted this way, there’d be no need for the proposed Burnside Avenue switches.
Another issue with Jerome Avenue express service is that, like the Concourse express, trains would skip the busiest station in The Bronx (161st Street – Yankee Stadium). A capital solution exists for this problem, however.
Potential capital investment: Convert the upper level of 161st Street – Yankee Stadium station to an express stop with island platforms.
[Fig. 7] Overview of the 161st Street upper level conversion.
As with the proposed Concourse line platform conversion, this investment provides a major service and capacity increase to The Bronx’s busiest station. NYTIP recommends this conversion only if both 4 and 5 trains serve Jerome Avenue.
While Option 1a has some benefits, it also has major issues. The first major issue is that this leaves the 6 train as the only direct route to Manhattan’s east side from anywhere in the South or East Bronx. Under Option 1a, 2/3 riders would have to transfer at 149th Street – Grand Concourse to the 4/5; the 149th Street – Grand Concourse station can’t handle large volumes of transferees without major capital investment. The second issue is Harlem. If the 2 and 3 both serve The Bronx, there is no longer any service to the 145th Street or Harlem – 148th Street stations on the current 3 line. To mitigate the latter issue…
Option 1b: Implement Option 1a with an infill station at 145th Street
[Fig. 8] Overview of option 1b with the new 145th Street station.
[Fig. 9] Option 1b track map. Note the eliminated conflict near 149th Street – Grand Concourse.
An area MTA neighborhood map suggests that 2 service diverges around 143rd Street and runs under Col. Charles Young Playground before crossing under the Harlem River to The Bronx. Option 1b contemplates a new, full-length infill station under this playground serving 145th Street, with entrances at 143rd Street/Malcolm X Blvd, 145th Street near the 145th Street Bridge, and possibly 145th Street/Malcolm X Blvd using the existing 145th Street station as mezzanine space. 2 and 3 trains would run together to serve the new station and enter The Bronx. Owing to the Lenox Yard, the Harlem – 148th Street station would see some form of limited rush-hour 3 service; however the station would close at other times. This minimizes use of the at-grade junction north of 135th Street station, improving regularity on the 2 and 3 lines.
Option 1b is the best de-interlining option, but is it the best option for The Bronx? Let’s consider another alternative.
Option 2: Partial de-interlining option – 2/5 swap
[Fig. 10] Overview of Option 2.
[Fig. 11] Option 2 track map showing eliminated conflicts between express and local trains.
Option 2 prescribes a simple swap of the 2 and 5 lines north of East 180th Street. The White Plains Road branch is about 4.5 miles long with 10 stations, while the Dyre Avenue branch is about 4 miles long with 5 stations. Under NYTIP, express service should serve the longer, higher-ridership branches; as such, Option 2 sends the 5 express to Wakefield – 241st Street and the 2 local to Eastchester – Dyre Avenue. When the 5 runs express south of East 180th Street, it no longer has to cross over the local tracks to reach the center track.
Under Option 2, there is no “split service” north of East 180th Street; all 2 trains serve the Dyre Avenue branch and all 5 trains serve the White Plains Road branch.
Option 3: Retain existing pattern and end branched 5 service.
Under this option, all 5 trains serve the Dyre Avenue branch and all 2 trains serve the White Plains Road branch. This ends the rush-hour “split service” that led to infrequent service on the Dyre Avenue branch.
Recommended path forward: Option 3 (short-term). As with Queens Boulevard, full de-interlining is not possible without major capital investment. Consequently, NYTIP recommends Option 3 in the short term. This is a change from my previous recommendation of Option 2, and stems from an idea I recently tweeted.
In my next post, I’ll give a summary of the enhanced NYC Subway system under NYTIP, along with additional enhancements tying these improvements together. Until next time!